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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/8/10

Curse of the Flat Learning Curve

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Message Stephen Pizzo
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The most depressing thing about getting older is loss of innocence. I can no longer find comfort in the belief that "those in-charge" must be smarter than the average bear.

Not true. Not even close.

Where's my proof? Where's isn't it, is more to the point. But let me point out just one example.

Smart people learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Now read the two paragraphs that follow. One is from the past and one is from the present. I have deleted identifiers from each:

Quote No. 1

"The condominiums stretched as far as the camera could see, in two and three floor clusters, maybe 15 units per building. They were separated by stretches of arid, fiat land. Many were only half-finished shells. Most were abandoned, left to the ravages of the hot sun. ... the camera zoomed in on building materials stacked rotting in the desert dust. Loose wiring and shreds of insulation swayed in the warm, dead, quiet air. Siding had warped, concrete cracked, windows broken. In many cases only the concrete slab foundations remained dubbed by locals, "Martian landing pads."

Quote No. 2

"Hundreds of miles inland from the booming real estate markets of ".... and ". an unlikely property fever is gripping this middling industrial outpost...Rows of half-completed apartment buildings rise over former farmland, each crowned with yellow construction cranes that seem to outnumber trees in parts of this dusty city of 5 million residents."

Give up? The first quote is from a book I co-authored a quarter century ago Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans. The quote describes hundreds of Texas condominium units built with easy S&L money, most of which was never repaid, fueled by Reagan-era thrift deregulation. That money spawned America's first real housing bubble. Many of the condo's described were later simply bulldozed as there never was any real demand for them. That was until now the biggest US banking bust, housing bust since the Great Depression.

Not to beat a dead horse, but clearly American leaders who went on to create the housing bust of 2008 learned nothing from the 1980's S&L debacle.

But wait. You might be thinking that the second quote is about that America's current housing bust. No. I wish it were that simple.

The second quote is from today's Los Angeles Times describing China's now-overheated housing market.

"Taxi drivers (in China) boast of owning multiple flats for investment. Billboards hawk developments with names such as Villa Glorious and Rich Country. Frenzied crowds pack sales events with bags of cash, buying units that exist only on blueprints. Average home values in Hefei soared 50% last year...China's real estate rush, once confined to a handful of leading cities, has spilled into the hinterlands with a ferocity reminiscent of American expansion into exurbs like the Inland Empire.

In a country that economists say is treading dangerously close to a full-blown property bubble, Hefei represents more evidence of China's headlong embrace of housing to power economic growth."Everyone in Hefei lives with the real estate industry," said Guo Hongbing, a marketing consultant for several developers. "You can't escape it."

"The situation in Hefei is a symbol of the craziness in China's real estate market," said Cao Jianhai, a professor of economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank. "Prices in second- and third-tier cities are increasing more dramatically than in the first tier. It's very dangerous, and it puts local banks at risk."

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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